Sharjah Art Foundation explores the digital dialectic via exhibition - GulfToday

Sharjah Art Foundation explores the digital dialectic via exhibition

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Guan Xiao, Documentary of Agriculture: Breeding, 2019.

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

Opening Mar. 21, concurrent with the opening of Sharjah Art Foundation’s (SAF) annual March Meeting, SAF presents the most ambitious exhibition in the Middle East to date to explore Art in the Age of the Internet.

Curated by newly appointed SAF Director of Collections and Senior Curator Omar Kholeif who also served as co-curator of Sharjah Biennial 14, Art in the Age of Anxiety brings together a global group of contemporary artists to explore the ways our everyday devices, technologies and digital networks have altered our collective consciousness. It remains on view till June 21.

The exhibition presents more than 60 works spanning sculpture, prints, video, virtual reality, robotics and algorithmic programmes developed by more than 30 international artists including Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Cory Arcangel, Wafaa Bilal, Cao Fei, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Joshua Nathanson, Trevor Paglen, Siebren Versteeg, UVA, Guan Xiao and Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries.


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“Art in the Age of Anxiety explores critical questions in contemporary art and society through the work of a diverse group of artists from around the world”, said Hoor Al Qasimi, SAF Director.

“This is an exhibition that grew out of my own anxiety about the future. It completes over a decades’ worth of research exploring how artists explore, deconstruct and materialise the plemical issues raised by our accelerating society”, said Kholeif.

He speaks to Gulf Today on Art in the Age of Anxiety (AitAoA)

 How does technology create anxiety?

I do not necessarily believe that technology and art creates anxiety. On the contrary, art is able to suture wounds and open up new perspectives.

The exhibition is about the cultural context in which we live - where algorithms have begun to dictate our choices; where we end up in tunnel vision on our phone walking across the street and possibly get hit by a car (it’s happened to me!).

This is the anxiety referred to here. The exhibition holds a microscope or lens up to these conditions and seeks to ask questions.

 As an artist, one should respond to - and not be anxious about - technological and scientific changes. Comment.

That’s really for the individual artist to decide. No two artists are the same. As I mentioned, the exhibition is not a show about artists being anxious - but about an age of anxiety - a time when something seen on an RSS feed can lead to a brawl, a fight, a riot, and so forth - even if the information is false.

For more on the latter example, you can reference the opening pages of political scientist William Davies’ book, Nervous States.

 Technology has assisted art making. Can you briefly say how?

Technology has been an integral part of art making for decades - arguably throughout history. It has been a subject that contours the bounds of what art is made and seen; from the performances and collaborations of Experiments in Art and Technology in 1966 to the work of the legendary Nam June Paik, the Fluxus movement, through to female pioneers such as Lynn Hershman Leeson (who made the first interactive artwork on DVD), and on and on through to the net art movement of 1994 – and to the present moment.painting 2
Constant Dullaart, Mirror PVA Formation, Shadow Cube Division, 2019.

 Do artists fear that now, with the help of technology, anyone with a mobile phone can be a photographer, anyone with a computer can be a designer and Art can be learnt through online courses? Are artists afraid their monopoly is ending?

There is no such thing as an artist monopoly in my opinion nor do I know of any artists who are serious who are concerned about the democratisation of technology. On the contrary - all the artists I know and work with are excited about the potential of more creativity in the world.

 Besides commenting and interpreting the surveillance State, are artists becoming affiliated to it? (Artists have traditionally helped police sketch portraits of suspects).

The show is not about the surveillance state - although there are a couple of artists who address issues relating to algorithmic citizenship. I cannot comment on artists being affiliated to any surveillance state.

The artists here present works that reflect on the context of how humans can respond differently to technology by engaging with its full potential and understand the language from which it emerges.

 How is the Arabian Peninsula fit for the subject of Art in the Age of Anxiety?

This is a global exhibition that includes work by artists from the Middle East, China, South Africa, North America and Europe. Through the exhibition, attempt to tell a panoptical story of how artists are responding to the changing nature of society in an age where our devices are increasingly shifting our consciousness.

 Are artists anxious that the definition of Art is changing radically? That photo shopping, robot art and AI are upending old meanings of Art?

Not at all. As I mentioned - this is a show about the culture of anxiety that affects humanity - how machine learning and AI is happening and how everyday humans aren’t aware of it. Here, artists expose these realities to viewers in exciting and intriguing ways - formally, conceptually and aesthetically.

 How has technology affected collector behaviour?

I don’t engage with individual collectors on how they acquire their work. Most collectors I know acquire them at art fairs. There are online portals such as Artsy which have aided spaces for new buyers, but I believe the art market still operates through a very traditional dealer/seller model.

 How do you think Art can be a mediator between society and technology?

Art’s role is not to be a mediator between society and technology - these things are not polar opposites nor are they pitted against each other. Rather, artists explore key issues in society, which often involve technology and it is really exciting to see the stories that they choose to tell and the diverse ways that they make them public.

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